New Delhi: The National Human Rights
Commission (NHRC) is of the opinion that the government`s move
to provide citizens with `Aadhaar` or unique identification
numbers in its present form could lead to discrimination.
The NHRC`s remarks came in response to views from it
sought by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance
headed by Yashwant Sinha on National Identification Authority
of India Bill introduced last December.
The Bill seeks to establish National Identification
Authority of India for issuing `Aadhaar` numbers to Indian
residents to facilitate access to benefits and services.
The Commission was of the view that in the proposed
provisions in the bill, the "possibility of discrimination
cannot be ruled out" as the bill provides that every resident
shall be entitled to obtain an Aadhaar number, but does not
say that it would be issued to all citizens.
Emphasising the need for adequate safeguards against
discrimination, the Commission noted that the issuance of an
Aadhaar number has not been made compulsory under the Bill and
residents who do not obtain one may find themselves at a
disadvantage vis-a-vis those who do.
"Since the Aadhaar number is to be used and applied `for
delivery of various benefits and services`, a citizen who does
not have one may be denied access to these, while a resident,
who may not be a citizen, would have access if he had obtained
an Aadhaar number," the NHRC said.
The Commission also expressed similar concerns raised by
a section of activists that the stored bio-metric information
could be tampered with. "The possibility of tampering with
stored biometric information cannot be ruled out, though the
Bill sets out the precautions envisaged," it said.
The NHRC noted that the "biometric information" and
"demographic information" have not been clearly defined and
while framing the regulations under the Act, precautions
should be taken to ensure that individuals are not required to
disclose confidential information about themselves.
Noting that the Bill does contain provision for
punishment and penalties for those who violate the protection
of information clauses, the NHRC pointed out the need to
include provisions for compensation to the victim.
The Commission was also of the view that the verification
of the details provided by an applicant should be done before
the number is issued.
The rights body said it appeared that the process of
verification of the correctness of the information or data
furnished by the individual will be done from the person
concerned after issuing an Aadhaar number.
The NHRC also did not agree with issuance of guidelines
to courts for exercising its discretion on use of information
related to Aadhaar numbers.
"The courts follow judicial principles in issuing
directions and it would not be advisable to lay down
guidelines for the exercise of their discretion. However,
guidelines may be laid down in the regulations for officers
who may issue directions for the disclosure of information in
the interest of national security," it said.
The NHRC also recommended that the Authority should take
into consideration the difficulties and problems which women,
children, senior citizens and persons with disability are
likely to face in registering or verifying their biometrics.